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"Mission Critical" Jobs for Materials Engineers?

"Mission Critical" Jobs for Materials Engineers?

(OP)
What kinds of jobs are there for materials engineers that are vital to the success of a company. I suppose the follow-up question is what industries would these jobs be in?


________

Short intro since it's my first post here:
I'm student graduating with my BS and MS in Materials Science and Engineering next year.

I interned at a midsize (small F500) industrial manufacturing company in R&D for metallurgy last year. It ended up being more project management though (pester heat treat shops to get parts on time, send in lab test requests so other people can test parts with new heat treatments for you, then compile the results and make a presentation). Ended up being very not-technical since it was really just making sure the project was flowing smoothly (I mean, I understood the basic science between the new alternative heat treatments, but I digress).

I'm interning at a large automotive company this year essentially as a laboratory engineering intern. My job is basically a materials testing specialist. Much more hands on and technical, but at the end of the day, I don't get the sense that I am doing something particularly important to the company. If they so wanted they could simply hire an outside materials testing lab to test all their parts instead. I also feel like while I am technically encompassed within the "Product Development" group, we're still in our little world compared to say, D&R (design and release) engineers which are the "prototypical" PD engineers within automotive.


I guess what I'm really asking is where can I find jobs where I feel like what I'm doing is completely vital to the company and not just a "support" role. E.g. Drilling engineer for O&G is vital, HR and IT in O&G would be "support".

Are these jobs really only in, say, metals companies such as Alcoa, Nucor, US Steel? Or like, specialized materials testing labs (which usually end up supporting other companies)?

This is definitely something I've pondered a lot since last year's internship, if the Materials (Science and) Engineering major is not practical enough for undergraduates. We spend so much time learning about different crystal structures, movement and formation of dislocations (Frank-Read sources??? when will I ever use that knowledge in the real world?), thermodynamics, etc.. We learn relatively little about materials selection, process selection, the design process, useful computer skills (just Matlab?), etc.. I've taken to learning CAD on my own in my free elective classes just purely out of interest, but that's not typical or required by any means.

I think if I do end up in a company and/or industry where materials is more of a "support" role (such as... automotive), I'll probably work towards a MS (paid for by the company of course) in another field, most likely Mechanical Engineering or Electrical Engineering, simply because there's far more opportunities in the field for such a background, and it seems more of those opportunities are "vital" to the company.

Sorry for getting sidetracked, but I'm just a bit lost in what my future career path might be with an educational background in materials.

Thanks in advance for any replies!

RE: "Mission Critical" Jobs for Materials Engineers?

Hi there,

So after concluding a long and hard learning path you finally get into the job market and discover that is million miles away from what you expected? This is more or less the first impression of every engineer I know, including myself :)

What you are probably finding confusing is that the education of a materials engineer is extremely multidisciplinary and therefore can find an application in many different areas. A professor of mine has recently carried out a survey on the employment of his former students and found out that they were covering a wide range of positions: production, quality, research & development, project management, sales, and so on and so forth. So to answer your question, a materials engineer has the right skills to cover "fundamental" roles in a company.
There is nothing bad in your idea to move towards other fields, since every engineer has to specialize further after graduation to build a sound professional career. For example some of my former classmates continued their studies with PhDs in Electrical Engineering and I myself am fond of fracture mechanics which is a field very close to Structural and Mechanical Engineering. I am pretty sure that the background you find too theoretical now will be very appreciated and will allow you to be very flexible and versed in many areas.

This is the opinion of a proud materials engineer, hope that will help you to dispel the shadow of doubt :)

P.S. About the Frank-Read sources, well, you may not deal with them every day but I had to see again the theory of dislocations to understand the cyclic deformation behavior of cast iron.

RE: "Mission Critical" Jobs for Materials Engineers?

Keep in mind that there is a huge range of options in industry, even when you narrow it down to something like automotive. It has been my experience that people in the Materials Engineering field (metallurgy, polymers, coatings, etc.) are deemed mission critical in almost every industry, and work on a wide variety of projects from materials and process selection (including heat treatment), to testing and inspection (non-destructive, surface analysis, etc.), to failure analysis. Some things to keep in mind:

- If you want to know more about materials and process selection, go learn about it. Have you read every page of the ASM HANDBOOK series? If not, this is a really good place to start, especially Volumes 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 11, 13A/B/C, 14A/B, 15, 19, and 20. Go to the library and read Materials Selection in Mechanical Design by M. F. Ashby.

- Your experience so far has been in positions where an intern can make a contribution, and that your boss was the one who was doing the mission critical stuff, since he/she likely had a decade or more of on-the-job experience. We were all twentysomething at one point, and really wanted to make an impact, but you have to start somewhere. Do your job as well as possible, keep learning, ask questions.

RE: "Mission Critical" Jobs for Materials Engineers?

My experience is classical risk/reward. Working for smaller companies (privately held) put me in a position to contribute in important ways, often since I was the only materials engineer working on a project. But when things go wrong (a new product fails to launch or the market turns down) you are a high visibility and expensive asset that is likely to be seen as non-core. They can run their day to day business without you, but progress would be very difficult.
I now (after 35 years) play the roll of internal consultant/specialist in a fairly small manufacturing company.
Over the years I have found that the breadth of materials has provided many opportunities, and force me to remain active in many fields, casting, welding, failure analysis, heat treatment, testing (both destructive and many NDT methods), process technology, and so on. No other engineering discipline crosses as many lines. But using that flexibility I have been able to remain relevant and a key player in many activities.
One issue is that after a few years you will find that your boss really has no idea how you do what you do. If you are fortunate he will respect your ability to pull together different factors (such as mechanical properties & microstructure) to make educated decisions about important parts. Sometimes your boss doesn't know and doesn't care, which can work also. It is when they think that they know what you do that you can be in trouble, because then they decide what information you need, and it is never enough.

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P.E. Metallurgy, Plymouth Tube

RE: "Mission Critical" Jobs for Materials Engineers?

ConfusedMSE;
Some of the members above have provided excellent advice. I won't sugar coat, it seems to me that you may have selected the wrong engineering discipline. Not once did you mention how you learned on the job, or enjoyed the work as an intern, and networked.

Instead, you are focused about trying to have a high visibility job, which will take years to reach in the normal progression of an engineering profession. You might be a good candidate for an MBA and try to reach for the brass ring.

RE: "Mission Critical" Jobs for Materials Engineers?

(OP)
Thanks for all the replies so far!

Quote (mp87)

So after concluding a long and hard learning path you finally get into the job market and discover that is million miles away from what you expected? This is more or less the first impression of every engineer I know, including myself :)

Yep pretty much haha, was quite shocked last summer when I was given my project and day to day duties, but I've come to accept it.

Quote (TVP)

Keep in mind that there is a huge range of options in industry, even when you narrow it down to something like automotive. It has been my experience that people in the Materials Engineering field (metallurgy, polymers, coatings, etc.) are deemed mission critical in almost every industry, and work on a wide variety of projects from materials and process selection (including heat treatment), to testing and inspection (non-destructive, surface analysis, etc.), to failure analysis.

I suppose that's true, maybe I just feel that way (that my jobs have been more on the "support" side) just due to the size of the companies I've worked at so far resulting in the feeling of being a tiny cog in a huge machine. Going for full-time next year I'll be looking into companies of all sizes rather than just aiming for the biggest as a resume builder. Plus the grass always seems greener on the other side I suppose, I'm probably romanticizing other entry-level/intern engineering jobs just due to my lack of familiarity with them.

Quote:

Your experience so far has been in positions where an intern can make a contribution, and that your boss was the one who was doing the mission critical stuff, since he/she likely had a decade or more of on-the-job experience. We were all twentysomething at one point, and really wanted to make an impact, but you have to start somewhere. Do your job as well as possible, keep learning, ask questions.

Kind of true, but it's probably more just a misplaced (?) sense of importance I've placed on entire groups or departments. I realize that most any internship or entry-level job will be doing easier more menial jobs while having your hand held, but when I meant "mission critical" or "vital" I meant more of what the overall group or team or department is responsible for. Once again, probably just my lack of familiarity with each engineering role downplaying my own team's importance while romanticizing that of other teams.

Quote (metengr)

I won't sugar coat, it seems to me that you may have selected the wrong engineering discipline.

Very probably or possibly true. If I could do it all over again I'd probably get a major in ME with a minor in Materials (there is no minor in mechanical at my college so I can't do it the other way around). Don't get me wrong, studying materials engineering is by and large more interesting than most of the mechanical engineering courses I've taken, but at least in the industries I've dipped my toes in there's just more opportunity to move around as a ME while in materials it feels like I'm pigeonholed into just a few different possible teams.

Unfortunately I'm in way too deep to turn back now and switch majors, it's just not financially feasible (or rather, financially prudent) to spend another 2 years in college (and that's just for a BSME, whereas I would have a BS and MS in MSE in one year).

Quote:

Instead, you are focused about trying to have a high visibility job

I would say a job that I consider to be more important to the company, which I guess could be rephrased as high visibility (but I really don't think of it like that...), but once again, probably just my lack of familiarity with other entry-level engineering jobs speaking here.

Quote:

Not once did you mention how you learned on the job, or enjoyed the work as an intern, and networked.

Sure, each job has its pros and its cons, I've learned a lot from every job I've ever had, and I enjoy my current internship quite a bit. I suppose I didn't mention those aspects because I'm not asking about those aspects of each job, and thus I just wrote a quick overview of each internship experience and a tidbit on how they've led me to the question I'm asking.

Quote:

You might be a good candidate for an MBA and try to reach for the brass ring.

Maybe some day, but I'd rather continue to gain technical knowledge for now.

Quote (EdStainless)

But when things go wrong (a new product fails to launch or the market turns down) you are a high visibility and expensive asset that is likely to be seen as non-core.

Just curious, what is the distinction between "core" and "non-core"?

RE: "Mission Critical" Jobs for Materials Engineers?

"core" is MBA speak for 'who can we fire and still turn out a product'.
Development, customer support, and new products go out the window in that mode. And yes I have lost two jobs that way over the years.

On the bright side there are a lot of metallurgy position open compared to the number of engineers to fill them, the other side of that is that the odds of any two of those jobs being in the same city are slim.
I have worked 5 jobs (for 6 companies, I survived a takeover) and have lived 4 places doing it.

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P.E. Metallurgy, Plymouth Tube

RE: "Mission Critical" Jobs for Materials Engineers?

(OP)

Quote (EdStainless)

"core" is MBA speak for 'who can we fire and still turn out a product'.
Development, customer support, and new products go out the window in that mode. And yes I have lost two jobs that way over the years.

What positions (or industries?) within materials/metallurgy would you say have more job security then?

RE: "Mission Critical" Jobs for Materials Engineers?

Nothing is secure today, and if someone thought this was the case they are foolish. Your importance is based on what you provide as value to any organization. This could be perception, but then again perception is reality. Only you can decide on your strategy.

RE: "Mission Critical" Jobs for Materials Engineers?

Your education is your security. Learn and develop, that will always be in demand.
If you get 5-7 good years at one employer you have beat the average.
Move on and find a job that offers a challenge.

Employers moan about employees not wanting to stay, when the companies are the ones that started the cycle.
They didn't call him 'chainsaw Jack' for nothing.
Companies plan on not keeping people, it is easier to replace people that actually develop them and have succession planning.

Keep your feelers out and your mind open. There are very few places that I wouldn't go for the right job.
If you are looking for security (as in stay one place) buy a cemetery plot.

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P.E. Metallurgy, Plymouth Tube

RE: "Mission Critical" Jobs for Materials Engineers?

2
If you want to hone one skill (OK, 2) that will set you apart, I suggest the following:
1. Learn to listen. Be able to figure out when talking to someone (internal or external) where they are technically. How much do they understand and what information do they need.
2. Be comfortable presenting, whether in front of 6 people or 600. Know how to build effective presentations and deliver them with clarity and confidence.

An engineer that can (and wants to) explain things is rare and in demand.

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P.E. Metallurgy, Plymouth Tube

RE: "Mission Critical" Jobs for Materials Engineers?

Quote (EdStainless)

An engineer that can (and wants to) explain things is rare and in demand.

Well said!

RE: "Mission Critical" Jobs for Materials Engineers?

To the original question: All jobs are vital to the success of a company; otherwise they would not be hiring because it would not be profitable for them.

I would be very careful about focusing on your visibility - a recent ex-boss tried to do exactly that and let it go to his head, forgetting the corporate mission. Your visibility will naturally rise as you learn more and become more integral in your career. Most important in my mind is that you have to enjoy what you are doing. Moving on to the next job is one good way to get towards that goal.

RE: "Mission Critical" Jobs for Materials Engineers?

You may find that, after several years, you have the right founding to become a lawyer, since you will spend a fair percentage of your time justifying specification requirements either to management, to the contractor, or both simultaneously. It's up to you whether you take the Faustian routevader2

Steve Jones
Corrosion Management Consultant

http://www.linkedin.com/pub/8/83b/b04

All answers are personal opinions only and are in no way connected with any employer.

RE: "Mission Critical" Jobs for Materials Engineers?

If you feel as though a degree in mechanical engineering is better for you to progress to where you would like to be in a company, you could earn your Masters degree in Mech. Engr.

A bachelors in Materials Engr. combined with a masters in Mech. Engr. would be a very valuable combination that would set you apart from the crowd.

Maui

RE: "Mission Critical" Jobs for Materials Engineers?

I'm currently the only engineer at a 20-person company and have sole responsibility for process control and development. I also do the majority of the tech support and software improvements, having developed computer programming skills as a secondary to my engineering. Definitely mission critical.

Thing is, I got this job after working in lower level positions for nine years (two other companies). The company I work for now really wanted someone with at least close to ten years of experience, and I believe requiring five to ten years of experience is really common for almost all of the more interesting positions. You just have to work for five or ten years as best you can, building up your resume, before getting to the point that companies will trust you to be mission critical.

Just a thought on your suggestion of another degree: On the one hand, companies like to see people with five to ten years of experience AND high level degrees, so in the long run it will increase your marketability. On the other, companies would rather hire someone with a B.S. and the experience they're looking for vs. someone with a higher level of degree but lacking the job history, so you've invested more time in something that still won't pay off for several more years.

RE: "Mission Critical" Jobs for Materials Engineers?

"Yet when all is said and done, it all comes down to the guy that designed the strut that failed".

Ellon Musk

RE: "Mission Critical" Jobs for Materials Engineers?

I work in the naval defense industry. Material engineering carries a lot of clout and is very mission critical.

RE: "Mission Critical" Jobs for Materials Engineers?

Confused,

I interned for 7 years as I did a degree part time.

At the end of the day, when you enjoy your work it ceases to become work and then you learn easily and are successful.

Engineering depends upon continuous learning as you know. Ed's advice on being able to present and listening for the real problem when people are talking is the key - quite often they'll know the issue.

Somebody else said above that the ability to explain things simply is critical, and rare. If you can not explain the problem and your solution simply, you will have problems doing your job as you will find it difficult to obtain capital or approval to make process change.

The only other thing I'd add is a skill that comes with experience, an ability to relate to people at their level without sounding superior or dismissive.

If you can couple an enjoyment of work with an ability to understand the key issues underlying a problem and an ability to explain to all involved at a level they understand so you get support for change, you'll remain highly employable.

Good luck

RE: "Mission Critical" Jobs for Materials Engineers?

"Mission Critical" is just part of the current jargon. It implies your task is comparable to putting a man on the moon.
It could also mean your bosses are lining up scapegoats in advance.

"If you don't have time to do the job right the first time, when are you going to find time to repair it?"

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